Four weeks to prove myself or fall flat on my face
August 21, 2014 9:36 PM   Subscribe

My office has an opening for a supervisor. They've decided that since things move slowly in our organization (government), before selecting someone permanent for the job, it will be opened up to the office and anyone interested can serve in the position for four weeks to "get full sense of the responsibilities." I'm interested in the job for a few reasons but concerned about the pitfalls of being a supervisor for merely four weeks.

I don't know how many others in the office will throw their hat in the ring. It hasn't been presented as a test for those interested in the permanent supervisory position, but, if someone did well, I can assume that when he or she applies for the position, that will be a huge factor in the hiring decision. I'm not sure I want to be supervisor in this particular office because of the strange personalities (I repeat, it's a government job) and lack of strong leadership. However, at my current grade, I need some supervisory experience before advancing so I'm thinking, if nothing else, this may be something to put on my resume. How should I approach this opportunity so that I get the most from the experience? How best to be a supervisor when I only have four weeks? What should I be leery of in accepting this challenge? Thanks much!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total)
You should definitely go for this. It's good experience. Be your own advocate, be vocal in expressing your desire to take more responsibility and develop your management skills.

This is common practice in many public service jobs, so don't be nervous about it.

: You will have to manage people who were your peers, and who will be again shortly. You need to take a light touch; Work with people, not over them. Don't be a micro-manager - these people likely know how to do their jobs. Involve them in planning and strategy.

There will likely be existing systems in place that you must adapt to. You may not like them. However, remember that you are a temporary placeholder for an existing manager. You aren't there to change things - you are there to keep things running smoothly. Don't rock the boat unnecessarily. This isn't your house, you are a guest, so if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Opportunities: Think about how you might change things if you were running the show long-term. Consider making these suggestions once your management period is up.

Seek advice from the existing manager before they go - make sure you get a comprehensive handover so you know what's on the plate when you take over, and what the critical milestones are.

Make sure you provide a comprehensive handover at the end of your management period.

Seek feedback from your manager during and at the end of your management period. What did you do well, what could you improve at?

Good luck.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:14 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have never seen an interim manager actually land the job they interim'd for. You should do it anyways, but don't expect a lot of direct immediate reward from it.

There's also the fact that you can't exactly quit your old job. You'll have all these meetings to go to as Manager, and there'll still be all these things you need to take care of because nobody cross trains teams anymore.
posted by pwnguin at 10:36 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Agree with His thoughts were red thoughts. The 120-day rate-up is also normal around here. It couldn't really hurt much unless you turn into a petty dictator and everyone wants to kill you.

Being incumbent when the job is actually announced is a double-edged sword. Obviously, you're going to be in the best position to answer questions. Being terrible at it though is worse than no experience.

Be careful of a gotcha in my job series: the GS-10s who take the rate-up to 12 become supervisors, and thus subject to the pay limit. A 10 on full time-and-a-half overtime can be making more than a 12's limited rate, so depending on how much overtime you like to work or would be required of you, it could actually be a pay cut overall.
posted by ctmf at 10:42 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have never seen an interim manager actually land the job they interim'd for. You should do it anyways, but don't expect a lot of direct immediate reward from it.

Nthing this.

There's also the fact that you can't exactly quit your old job.

Also nthing this. You will basically be doing two jobs.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:10 PM on August 21, 2014

Do it for the experience rather than in expectation of landing the post. Also it is prudent to expect less than full cooperation from rival candidates, before, during, and after your trial.
posted by epo at 2:54 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have never seen an interim manager actually land the job they interim'd for. You should do it anyways, but don't expect a lot of direct immediate reward from it.

It must depend on the organization, because where I am now the common pattern is taking on higher duties informally, followed by the promotion, rather than the reverse. In fact I can't think of a recent example where that didn't happen (including myself). Public sector jobs often have slow and odd HR processes, so the informal promotion pattern is an effective way to short circuit parts of that process and introduce less risk.

The situation as described seems a little weird -- it's one thing to put a specific person into an interim or acting position as a test, but another to have the position sitting open for months for any random employee to try it out for four weeks. Even so, there's not much downside to trying it out and it will give you a hint of what is being required of that person in terms of weekly planning and reports and daily crises. "Acting Supervisor" will also make a nice entry on your resume, regardless of what happens.

What it won't give much idea of are the longer term issues you would have to solve, or the complicated personnel or management issues at hand -- those come up with time and usually take forever to actually solve. (And that's the weird part, because by leaving this position effectively unfilled for so long, they are preventing any progress happening on those longer term issues.)

I'd treat the four weeks as being at least as much about the social side as it is about the technical issues that need supervising. Meaning, I'd focus on relationship building, or reframing maybe since these are people you already know, such that the four weeks ends with people being impressed with your personality as well as supervisory ability. You get used to thinking of someone in their current role, so you want people to reframe their concept of you in the new role.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:44 AM on August 22, 2014

I have never seen an interim manager actually land the job they interim'd for.

If you work in the U.S. federal government, this is very much not the case in my agency.

Go for the temporary assignment, again presuming this is federal government make sure it is an official assignment that goes on your HR record (and you get the corresponding temporary promotion). This also helps you establish time in grade at the higher grade, which can help when applying for future jobs. I HIGHLY recommend doing this, there is no better way to indicate to leadership that you're interested in greater responsibilities than a detail like this.

Pitfalls? Supervising your co-workers for just a month. Have a light hand. What I like to tell detailers is that I view their role as keeping the wagon wheels rolling and the wagon on course. With just four weeks, you won't have time to do much more than that, but you will have time to demonstrate competence, leadership, a good work ethic and compassion. Have fun.
posted by arnicae at 5:50 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

King for a day? Make it count.

Like everyone else has said, a light hand.

However: if you're really a candidate for that job, you hopefully by now have a list of things that could be done better. Now's the time to find out if you're right.

Pick ONE of those things, and discuss implementing it for the duration of your four weeks with your supervisor. Make it something small, not too risky.

Also, plan to have fun. I mean it. Plan something fun for yourself and those you'll be supervising during your time. An event, a conference, a lecture, a barbecue...something.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:21 AM on August 22, 2014

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